In a Missoula County courtroom… an eight-woman, four-man jury found Matthew Otto, 27, guilty of a single charge of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs – in this case, 3 grams (well under an ounce) of marijuana. Otto faces a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Well under an ounce? How about close to a tenth of an ounce? Regardless, Montana law defines sales or distribution (giving) any amount of marijuana as a felony and allows for a one year to life prison sentence and $50,000 fine. Otto is lucky he wasn’t within 1,000 feet of a school or an additional three years minimum would be added.
Otto stood accused of sharing a bowl of his medical marijuana with two friends in a car traveling down Reserve Street, where the trio passed a Missoula County Sheriff’s detective on his way home from work last November.
How many times do I have to tell you people to not smoke pot in your freakin’ car?!? Even if parked but especially if moving!
Both Deputy Missoula County Attorney Andrew Paul and [Public Defender Chris] Daly questioned potential jurors closely as to their experiences with and attitudes toward marijuana – medical and otherwise. Roughly half the 24 people from whom the eventual jury was chosen raised their hands in response to a question as to whether they’d smoked marijuana. While none had medical marijuana cards, five had family members with “green” cards.
Yes, because over half of US adults aged 50 or younger have tried marijuana. If that’s going to be a disqualification for jury duty, you’re going to find it increasingly hard to seat juries (as happened in Montana last year).
Samantha and Jordan Lambert, who was driving the car, originally told Missoula County Sheriff’s Detective Jon Gunter that they’d gotten the marijuana from Otto, according to court papers. Wednesday, they testified they didn’t remember who lit the bowl or where the marijuana in it came from.
Daly repeatedly pointed out that neither of the Lamberts was charged with possessing or distributing marijuana, even though the bowl was shared among the trio.
“The detective told me if I was honest with him about taking a hit off the pipe, I would not be in trouble,” Jordan Lambert testified.
Missoula County Sheriff's Detective Jon Gunter testified that as a narcotics investigator, he felt it was more important to home in on the source of the drug.
So this terribly dangerous 3g of medical marijuana that Otto distributed to Jordan Lambert wasn’t so dangerous that we needed to charge the pot-smoking non-medical-marijuana-patient driving the car; it was “more important to home in on the” legit medical marijuana patient who was “the source of the drug”? Otto didn’t hold a gun to Lambert’s head and force him to take hits while driving by an off-duty sheriff. Lambert made a choice to endanger other drivers on the road but the police feel the real danger is the patient medicating in the back seat?
Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Burt, who questioned Otto while Gunter was talking with the Lamberts, videotaped that encounter.
On the tape, Otto told Burt that he had a medical marijuana card and that he used cannabis for back and knee pain.
“I’ve got all kinds of pain from carrying all this equipment,” Burt replied. “… My point is, you’re doing it for the recreation.”
How do you know that, Deputy? Living with chronic pain is just that – chronic. It exists at all times. Just because Otto shared a bowl with two healthy people doesn’t mean he wasn’t using medically himself.
The point, Paul said after the trial, was that Otto’s legal marijuana became illegal the minute he gave it to someone else.
District Court Judge Dusty Deschamps had reminded jurors as they began 3 1/2 hours of deliberations that marijuana is classified as a dangerous drug and that the amount of marijuana is immaterial.
Let this be a lesson to all patients out there. That pipe on your lips is medicine. But that pipe on your healthy friend’s lips is transformed into a “dangerous drug” and you are no longer a patient. Here in Oregon, the mere sight of your medicine in public transforms it into a dangerous drug and you into a criminal. You can carry around a pound and a half of usable cannabis, but if anyone can see even a single stem or flake of it, a mere 29 grams of usable cannabis is enough to get you a felony.
Otto was unwise in sharing his bowl with the driver of a moving car, but that driver deserves more punishment than Otto does, and neither of them deserve anything remotely close to life in prison and a $50,000 fine.
And another lesson for patients? Hire a real lawyer – don’t depend on the public defender.
Meanwhile, the Montana House has passed a bill to increase the penalties for sexual assaults:
Currently a person convicted of sexual assault is fined up to $500 and can be imprisoned for up to six months. But under Sen. Taylor Brown’s bill, the penalties double for a second time offender then increase to $10,000 and five years in prison for a third offense.
“When we look at this bill, we find kind of a inconsistency with a lot of other statutes that we have, drunk driving, partner family member assault, the third offense is a felony and typical sentence is five years, violation orders for protection, stalking has progressively increased penalties, even cruelty to animals has increased penalties,” said Rep. Cary Smith, (R-Billings).
Got it? If we catch you for the third time sexually assaulting someone, we could put you in prison for five whole years. But if you pass someone a bowl of your medical marijuana, we could put you in prison for life. Because in Montana, people like Missoula County Sheriff’s Detective Jon Gunter and Deputy Missoula County Attorney Andrew Paul have their priorities in order.
By Russ Belville
April 4, 2011
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